Body Area Networks: medical monitoring on the move

Paul Raven @ 11-10-2010

The Body Area Network shouldn’t be an entirely new idea to regular readers, but for those of you new to the term, it does what it says on the tin, i.e. networks together an assortment of gadgets and devices located on or in the human body. Those devices can be pretty much anything that produces or processes a signal… so as well as the potential for augmenting yourself into a Stephensonian gargoyle, you can also turn the electronic eye inwards by rigging up systems to monitor your internal organs and send the data to your phone:

Dubbed the Human++ BAN platform, the system converts IMEC’s ultra-low-power electrocardiogram sensors into wireless nodes in a short-range network, transmitting physiological data to a hub – the patient’s cellphone. From there, the readings can be forwarded to doctors via a Wi-Fi or 3G connection. They can also be displayed on the phone or sound an alarm when things are about to go wrong, giving patients like me a chance to try to slow our heart rates and avoid an unnecessary shock.

Julien Penders, who developed the system, says it can also work with other low-power medical sensors, such as electroencephalograms (EEGs) to monitor neurological conditions or electromyograms to detect neuromuscular diseases. Besides helping those already diagnosed with chronic conditions, BANs could be used by people at risk of developing medical problems – the so-called “worried well” – or by fitness enthusiasts and athletes who want to keep tabs on their physiological processes during training.

Lots of street uses, too, once this stuff gets cheap (which shouldn’t take long). For instance, we humans tend to get competitive about pretty much anything that can be measured and recorded, so perhaps we’ll get forums devoted to people pushing their bodies to extremes – be it through drug use, extreme sports or even epic-scale lassitude – and posting the evidence. Whole lot of new (and weird) categories for the Guinness Book of Records coming down the pipeline…


Smart Grids == Spy Grids?

Paul Raven @ 04-06-2010

We’ve talked about smart grids before – infrastructure networks for basic utilities that incorporates all sorts of networked active monitoring technologies to make our use of energy and water more efficient. Sounds like a win-win situation for consumers and utilities companies alike, doesn’t it?

That altogether depends on how worried you are about extensive data on your lifestyle and consumer choices becoming easily scraped up by your utility suppliers

It knows how often you use your microwave, how many loads of laundry you do every week, what kind of television you own and even how often you shower. It can tell how many people live in your home, what time they go to bed and when the house is empty. All of this information and more is gathered by smart grid meters…

[…]

The information could be used in all kinds of ways, legitimate or not, from cities seeking broad information about how well energy-efficiency programs are working to burglars looking for expensive electronics.

Law enforcement agencies want to use smart meters to spot potential marijuana-growing operations or the location of an underground sweatshop. Companies hope the data will help them target marketing to consumers.

Where there’s data, there’s money… and you can’t always trust organisations who promise never to sell your data to third parties to actually keep their word. AMIRITE, Mr Zuckerberg? Smart grids will be a boon to our increasingly energy-hungry planet, but they’ll also be another battleground for the privacy war that’s slowly lumbering its way into the Now.

But hey, think positive: there’s an upside to the fact that utilities companies monitor their grids. If you get lost in the middle of nowhere without a cellphone, you can just cut down an electricity pylon and wait for the repair crew to arrive[both links via John Robb]


Nanotats: nanotube inks under skin could monitor blood glucose levels

Paul Raven @ 03-06-2010

Diseases like diabetes demand regular monitoring… which currently means pricking one’s finger for a blood sample once a day, maybe more. It’ll be cold comfort for those afraid of needles in general, but chemical engineers at MIT have developed an ink based on carbon nanotubes that, if injected under the skin, could act as a sort of constant glucose-level monitor [via Technovelgy]:

The sensor is based on carbon nanotubes wrapped in a polymer that is sensitive to glucose concentrations. When this sensor encounters glucose, the nanotubes fluoresce, which can be detected by shining near-infrared light on them. Measuring the amount of fluorescence reveals the concentration of glucose.

The researchers plan to create an “ink” of these nanoparticles suspended in a saline solution that could be injected under the skin like a tattoo. The “tattoo” would last for a specified length of time, probably six months, before needing to be refreshed.

To get glucose readings, the patient would wear a monitor that shines near-infrared light on the tattoo and detects the resulting fluorescence.

So you’d still need some intermediary hardware, but it’s not a ludicrously implausible step to suggest that eventually you might just get a tattoo whose colour would change to inform you of any problems. And hell, why stop there? The transhumanist sympathiser in me can’t help but think that two full-arm sleeves of designs cranking out live data on the state of my meatmachine would be nothing short of awesome… like conky, but for biological systems!

That said, it’d probably achieve little more than letting me watch my arteries clog in minute detail as I spent day after day sat in a swivel chair pecking away at a keyboard…


Under Your Skin: The Implants are Coming

Brenda Cooper @ 02-06-2010

This idea for this article started when I was doing some research on prosthetics and came across an article about a wheelchair that can be controlled with brainwaves. That got me thinking about what else we might be doing to use electronics or other implants to manage our interface with the world. This was pretty interesting research: I learned a new word (Geoslavery, or location control), and I got to see that the new wave in implants may not be chips at all. Continue reading “Under Your Skin: The Implants are Coming”


Mass Custom Microbots For Everyone… Else.

C Sven Johnson @ 24-03-2010

Future Imperfect - Sven Johnson

Unlike most people my age, I don’t have a lot of dead tech replacement parts crammed inside my body. No hand-polished titanium joints. No electro-membrane kidney prefilters. No brand name ocular or cochlear augmentation devices. Just some old metal fillings and a couple of porcelain crowns. However, over the past few years I’ve been reaching that point where good genetic fortune runs out and difficult choices need to be made. As a consequence, while recently undergoing a routine physical exam, my doctor recommended I consider having a colony of MoniBots™ injected into my system so they could monitor my physical condition and report back anything out of the ordinary.

I told her I’d give it some thought. Continue reading “Mass Custom Microbots For Everyone… Else.”


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